Grant money that once flowed freely to local nonprofit agencies for dozens of initiatives is now going to just a few, after careful analysis of their results and their potential.
“It’s been really difficult,” said Rowie Taylor, executive director of the YWCA of Northeastern New York. “We’ve all changed the way we’ve done business. Everybody’s had to reevaluate.”
At the YWCA, some programs have been canceled, including a Parents Anonymous group, because no one would fund it.
Other agencies, including the Free Health Clinic and Carver Community Center, have closed.
And while some agency closures were due to financial mistakes and poor organization, others cut expenses but still couldn’t make ends meet.
Far less state and federal money is available to community-service agencies. Local donors are also giving less. Even foundations and other private donation groups are asking for more data before they will invest their money.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said the reduction in funds could lead to better agencies.
“What it does is it forces organizations to prioritize,” he said. “We may end up with higher-quality products.”
But results aren’t always practical.
The Rev. Philip Grigsby, executive director of Schenectady Inner City Ministry, said some grant applications want him to prove that a children’s summer program increased the participants’ grades the following year.
“Some things you can’t measure,” he said. “And they want you to have a tested program for three years before you can ask for money. How do you start a program? There aren’t the funds for experimenting.”
At the local United Way, where donations are still $3 million lower than they were before 2008, demonstrated results are now critical.
“United Way needed to have more impact,” CEO Brian Hassett said. “There was a sense of entitlement on the part of agencies we funded. Once you were funded by United Way, you were always funded.”
Now the agency doesn’t have the money for that.
“We are trying to make sure the best possible programs get funded,” Hassett said, adding that large donors want to know their money is having results.
United Way has also prioritized its funds, aiming them toward basic needs, early education, income and health. “Instead of just funding everybody, we’re trying to work toward solving the worst problems,” he said.
Taylor said the agencies that have survived thus far are starting to band together.
“It’s not mandated collaboration, but ...” she said. “We’ve all come to learn and respect even more what other agencies do and make sure we aren’t duplicating.”
The City Council made it clear years ago that it would no longer give out grants to agencies that were duplicating the work of others, even if two groups had different takes on the issue.
The council stopped funding Jobs Etc., a SICM agency that matched people unemployed with jobs and mentored them through obstacles so they could keep their jobs. Council members said the county already funded the One Stop job placement agency. Jobs Etc. officials argued that their mentorship helped workers keep their jobs by finding solutions for transportation and childcare. Council members were unmoved.
Now, some agencies are starting to merge and share services.
McCarthy cited SACC-TV, the public access television station that moved to Proctors and became Open Stage Media.
It wasn’t easy: the board voted for the move, but some members split off and have kept SACC open on a shoestring budget.
Proctors now provides some of the accounting and other back-office work for SACC, as well as providing space for broadcast stages.
“There’s a lot more synergy,” McCarthy said.
Taylor said agencies are also changing to get results.
“We’ve done a lot of evaluating and assessing programs to make sure it’s not only meeting the needs of the community, but also most efficiently,” she said.
And that means cutting some programs.
“We can do an even better job in the community if we really do what we do best instead of doing everything,” Taylor said.